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Big Sister is Watching You
May 31, 2012 - By: - In: In the News / Awards - Comments Off on Big Sister is Watching You

The US Department of Homeland Security, the same folks that brought you full-body gropes at airport check-ins, are also feeling up social media content to spot the terrorists in our  midst.

So if your language inclines to terror terms such as “pork,” “cloud,” “team” and “Mexico” your on-line musings will earn the X-ray-like scrutiny of government spooks, if the Department of Homeland Security Media Monitory Capability Analyst’s Desktop Binder is any guide.

These seemingly innocuous terms are just a few of the hundreds of suspicious words and phrases that the Department was forced to release in a suit brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) under the Freedom of Information Act. In a letter to the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, EPIC described DHS’s word choice as ‘broad, vague and ambiguous.’ EPIC says that the wordlist includes ‘vast amounts of First Amendment protected speech that is entirely unrelated to the Department of Homeland Security mission to protect the public against terrorism and disasters.”

This is understandable since analysts are on the lookout for terrorists, natural disasters and “media reports that reflect adversely on DHS and response activities.” That’s a pretty broad brush when you consider all those who resent offering up their shoes at the latest airport security theater performance. (I was delighted to learn that a wheelchair-bound Henry Kissinger was a sitting duck for a TSA senior-citizen grope the other day.)

Homeland Security official told the Huffington Post that the manual ‘is a starting point, not the endgame’ in maintaining situational awareness of natural and man-made threats and denied that the government was monitoring signs of dissent.” Bad press for DHC being the exception that makes the rule, I guess.

Reuven Cohen at Forbes notes: “What wasn’t disclosed is how the agency actually gains access to the various search engines and social networks to monitor the specified keywords. My guess is the DHS has a ‘special arrangement’ with companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Twitter to gain secure direct API access. This type of access would allow it to use distributed cloud technologies to monitor the daily flow of social media and search activity in something close to real time.”

Cohen’s post points to the amateurish nature of the effort. Surely other government agencies have access to far more powerful tools for monitoring Web traffic than such a silly list as this. How well the State minds our language!

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